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Half The Sinque Field Can Win In Tense Final Round

Half The Sinque Field Can Win In Tense Final Round

On Thursday Wesley So suffered his fourth loss at the Sinquefield Cup. He was beaten by Sergey Karjakin. This means that half the field can still win the tournament. Karjakin is now tied for fourth place with Magnus Carlsen, half a point below Vishy Anand, Levon Aronian and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

Wesley So resigns for the fourth time. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

The situation before the final round is extremely tense. It's unprecedented for the Sinquefield Cup that, after eight rounds, half the field is still in contention for winning the tournament.

Even Karjakin can still win. For that, the Russian player needs to win tomorrow, and then work his way through a playoff on Saturday. (For a discussion of the possible scenarios, see the end of the article.)

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Speaking of Sergey Karjakin; his win today was the only decisive, and longest game of the round. When Wesley So resigned, few spectators were still in the club. Lotis Key and Renato Kabigting, So's foster parents, were still there, like every day. He'll need their support more than ever.

Karjakin said that he just wanted to get a position to play, and was planning to make it a long game where he could hope for mistakes from his off-form opponent. And that's exactly what happened. 

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Karjakin's second win got him to plus one and even a small chance for tournament victory. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

"I am not saying I got something special out of the opening but the position was completely playable," said Karjakin. "I think he made a few inaccurate moves."

Especially So's 39th move was a clear mistake, and thanks to Karjakin's strong maneuver 45.Nc5! Na6 46.Rc8! he managed to deliver.

Robert Hess's Game of the Day analysis

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Wearing his new sunglasses for most of the game didn't help So much. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

The other four games ended in draws, including the top clash between two of the three tournament leaders, Viswanathan Anand and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. This wasn't the Najdorf you might have expected; Anand went 1.Nf3 and after getting a second chance with 1...c5, he closed the Sicilian door forever with 2.c4.

After 2...Nf6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 MVL surprised his opponent by going 4...d5!?—a move that was considered dubious until recently, or maybe still!

The simple 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.e4 wins a tempo, but it's not as bad as former theoreticians thought. Peter Svidler tried it earlier this year against Anish Giri; a game Anand said he was aware of. MVL: "I thought what's the big deal with 4...d5, I mean, it's probably slightly worse but I felt I should be able to play on more even terms."

As it went, Vachier-Lagrave felt that White should perhaps not have traded queens so early, although Anand still had a small edge.

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Anand could have made more of this game perhaps, but it was never clear. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

The third leader, Levon Aronian, drew even quicker. That was a pity not only for the tournament intrigue, but also because his game with Peter Svidler started to become really interesting when the players suddenly went for a repetition of moves. 

The early complications prompted Svidler to share in the confession box: "I've looked through the games I played in this tournament in my mind and this seems the first position by move 14 I might enjoy playing."

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Aronian and Svidler shaking hands before the start. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

Aronian was having fun as well, for as long as it lasted. "Of course the tournament situation would favor to play a solid opening but I wanted to immediately fight for winning chances in this game," he said. "But I didn't really like my position. It seemed too wobbly. I felt that if I don't play precise then I might end up worse and I didn't see a good move for myself."

Although the game lasted only 19 moves, it seems that both players dodged a bullet. Aronian could get a promising position on move 12, and shortly after taking on g2 would have been good for Svidler. The latter involved a beautiful idea that both players didn't see.

Svidler: "Once you don't see this idea the repetition is actually quite logical as it is."

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Aronian contemplating whether to play on or not. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

Magnus Carlsen would have loved to play for a win in a long maneuvering game, like Karjakin, but it wasn't meant to be. In fact, he was in a bit of trouble against Ian Nepomniachtchi today.

The Russian GM could get some preparation on the board, and got a slightly better endgame. That advantage was fully based on the fact that one of Carlsen's rooks was completely side tracked.

"Basically I have an excellent position if my rook is somewhere normal. Then I'm probably just better," said Carlsen. "I never could seem to find a decent plan."

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Carlsen couldn't find a good plan today. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

The world champion did play for a win, initially. "I didn't want to play for a draw. Then I used up all my time and I realised my position is just worse."

Carlsen panicked for a bit but could keep things under control. "I'm lucky that I got off so easily. I think it could have been worse for sure."

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A good game by Nepomniachtchi vs the world champion. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

Hikaru Nakamura was somewhat fortunate as well, against Fabiano Caruana. The problems didn't originate from his creative approach in the King's Indian (playing ...d6 and then ...c6 and ...d5) but from a bad phase just before the time control.

Nakamura miscalculated, and he could have found himself in a queen endgame being down a pawn. Caruana thought he was about to win in the attack with 42.Rh8, completely missing a simple combination that leads to perpetual check.

It was one of those moments where the blunder occurs to the player as soon as he lets go of the piece. "Pretty much immediately I realised that 43...Rh1+ is possible," said Caruana.

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A topsy-turvy game from the two American rivals. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

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2017 Sinquefield Cup | Round 8 Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 Pts SB
1 Anand,V 2783 2874 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 5.0/8 19.75
2 Vachier-Lagrave,M 2791 2880 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 5.0/8 19.50
3 Aronian,L 2799 2870 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 1 1 5.0/8 17.50
4 Karjakin,S 2773 2832 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 ½ 1 4.5/8 17.00
5 Carlsen,M 2822 2825 ½ 0 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 4.5/8 16.25
6 Caruana,F 2807 2791 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 4.0/8
7 Svidler,P 2749 2747 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 3.5/8
8 Nakamura,H 2792 2701 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 3.0/8 12.25
9 Nepomniachtchi,I 2751 2704 0 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 0 3.0/8 11.25
10 So,W 2810 2649 0 0 0 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 2.5/8
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It's likely that the tournament will see two or more players tie for first place after tomorrow's final round. The regulations (here in PDF) state the following about a playoff:

Where there is a tie for first place in an Event, there shall be a playoff between the top two players in the Event standings which shall be determined as follows:

4.1. Number of games won by each of the players involved in the tie.
4.2. The results of the games between or amongst the players in the tie.
4.3. If more than two players remain tied for first place after the application of Regulations 4.1 and 4.2 above, there shall not be a playoff and the Grand Chess Tour Points shall be shared amongst all
players involved in the tie.
4.4. If two or more players remain tied for second place after the application of Regulations 4.1 and 4.2 above, there shall not be a playoff. The player in first place after the application of Regulations 4.1
and 4.2 above shall be declared the winner of the event and Regulation 5 below shall apply.

Here are a few possible scenarios:

  1. If all games end in draws tomorrow, or if the three current leaders all win their games, there will be no playoff. The reason is that Anand, Aronian and MVL will be tied for first place, but only Aronian has an extra win, so 4.1 will be ignored, and 4.2 does not break the tie. (This scenario was confirmed to Chess.com by one of the arbiters.)
  2. If Karjakin wins and the other games end in draws, four players will tie for first but only Aronian and Karjakin will have three wins. They will play the playoff.
  3. If Karjakin wins, Carlsen beats Aronian and the other games end in draws, Carlsen and Karjakin will play the playoff, again based on number of wins.

Obviously there are (many) more possibilities, but these scenarios give you an idea about how the playoff regulations will work out.

On a final note, the decision by the Grand Chess Tour organizers to have only two players in a playoff even if there are three players or more on the same number of points is far from ideal. (It is probably done to prevent the playoff from running too long.)

Vachier-Lagrave said today: "The tiebreak rules definitely would need some remodeling because they don't make much sense."

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